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Abbott Elementary Star Recalls Producer Telling Her She Shouldn't Kiss Tom Cruise In A Movie Because She Was Black And How That Fueled Her

Over the past 40 years, Sheryl Lee Ralph has been a consistent fixture within the entertainment space. She’s appeared in films, amassed numerous TV credits and has an incredible stage career. Most recently, she’s joined ABC’s new teacher-centric comedy Abbott Elementary, which has quickly found an audience. While the actress is thriving now, that wasn’t always the case. She’s experienced her share of adversity, with one such moment happening when she was told she shouldn’t kiss Tom Cruise in a movie because she was Black. However, the actress has since used that moment to fuel her. 

Sheryl Lee Ralph first rose to prominence in the late ‘70s, having made her film debut in the late, great Sidney Poitier’s A Piece of the Action. By the ‘80s and ‘90s, she’d landed a number of roles on both the big and small screens. Though her true breakthrough would come in 1981 when she was cast as Deena Jones in the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls. Her talent and success were undeniable, yet she recalled that a casting director doubted a “beautiful, talented Black girl” should make out with Tom Cruise in a film:

So when I left Broadway, going to Hollywood I had a memorable audition with a big casting director who looked at me and said ‘Everybody knows you’re a beautiful, talented Black girl. But what do I do with a beautiful, talented Black girl? Do I put you in a movie with Tom Cruise? Do you kiss? Who goes to see that movie?’ But I left that audition with some of the best ammunition. Everybody knew I was a beautiful, talented Black girl. And I should be in the movies with the likes of Tom Cruise, and he should kiss me!

Sadly, the particular mentality the star detailed during her appearance on The View has been held by more than a few producers over the years. And it’s especially true when it comes to performers with darker skin complexions. I think just about anyone would feel that the Ray Donovan alum could (and still can) share the screen with the Mission: Impossible star. She could certainly lock lips with him (and draw an audience while doing so), too.

It’s a good thing Sheryl Lee Ralph didn’t let the comments rattle her, as the public may not have gotten other great pieces of art from her. In the world of cinema, she’d go on to star as a lead in The Mighty Quinn (alongside Denzel Washington). She’d also land roles in other notable movies like Oliver & Company, The Distinguished Gentleman and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Within her many TV roles, most likely know her for her role as Deidra "Dee" Mitchell on classic UPN sitcom Moesha. The show was one of many Black-led ‘90s sitcoms that’s still beloved to this day.

In short, Sheryl Lee Ralph more than deserves her flowers after so many years in the business. She’s truly braved the ups and downs of Hollywood and, quite frankly, you love to see it. Here’s to continued success for the star (and maybe even some potential liplocks with some big names).

Be sure to catch the actress on Abbott Elementary when it airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on ABC. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Erik Swann
Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.